Custody visits by members of the public failing to hold police to account

Woman in a cellsource: The Conversation
published: 30 April 2018

Custody in police stations is a very locked-down affair. People who have been arrested and are detained spend most of the time isolated in their cells. Custody visitors, the only outsiders who get to see the detainees, are neither respected by the police nor trusted by the detainees.

“My recent research has revealed serious problems in the system of monitoring police custody, now known as the Independent Custody Visiting Scheme. This scheme, run locally by Police and Crime Commissioners, enables members of the public to make random, unannounced visits to check on the welfare of the detainees in police custody” [says author, John Kendall].

There are about 2,000 custody visitors making about 11,000 visits each year in England and Wales. They make the visits in pairs, and each custody block gets a visit about once a week.

But the custody visitors are not independent of the police, and my research has found that the work they do is not effective. The scheme doesn’t meet international human rights obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, largely because of the visitors’ lack of independence and expertise. And the scheme is probably counterproductive, as it obscures the need for proper effective regulation.

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